Cancer of Unknown Primary

Cancer Services - Cancer Types - Cancer of Unknown Primary - Introduction
What is Cancer of an Unknown Primary? (CUP)
The term primary cancer refers to the area of the body where the cancer starts (for example breast). When cancer cells spread to other areas of the body this is known as secondary cancer.

Cancer of unknown primary (CUP) is a term used when cancer has been diagnosed but the original site of the cancer is not obvious.

Cancer with an unknown starting point is referred to in different ways. It may also be called tumour of unknown origin or carcinoma of unknown primary.

Approximately 5% of cancer patients will have a CUP diagnosis. CUP patients will develop symptoms caused by a secondary cancer so managing symptom control optimally is a priority.
There are many reasons why the primary site of cancer cannot be determined:
  • The primary may be too small to be seen on the scan.
  • The primary cancer may have disappeared although it has already spread.
  • Your own immune system may have destroyed the primary cancer but not the secondaries.
The CUP (cancer of unknown primary) service, at the Whittington hospital, is made up of many members of the MDT including specialist oncology doctors and nurses.

What is a multidisciplinary team?
A multidisciplinary team (MDT) is a group of doctors and other health professionals with expertise in a specific cancer, who together discuss and manage an individual patientís care. They plan the treatment that is best for you.

When an MDT meets, they consider all of the scan and test results that you have had since your initial cancer diagnosis. This helps them to plan the treatment that is most effective for you, taking into account your age, general health, the cancer stage (its size and whether it has spread) and its grade (which indicates how quickly it may grow or develop).
They also ensure your psychological and social needs are considered and your care is coordinated in an efficient and timely manner.
Last updated20 May 2024
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